Yes, there is a chance both the girls and boys programs can win a state title in the same season.
But all of those conversations go in one ear and out the other for the Wildkats — at least until the tournament is over.
“We’re trying to deflect that off the girls. It’s not about the boys program, it’s not about me,” Columbia Falls coach Cary Finberg said.
“It’s about them as a team. We’re telling them, ‘Hey, don’t worry about what happened with the boys. If we do what we’ve done all year we’ll be fine.’ They just want to go down there and win games.”
The top-ranked Wildkats are focused and confident heading into today’s Class A state tournament at Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls.
Columbia Falls has rolled through its schedule, posting a 19-1 record.
They’re undefeated in Class A with the only blemish on their record coming from a loss to Class AA Glacier High School.
Led by dominate posts Haley Belgarde and Winter Kemppainen — who are averaging 12 and 10 points per game, respectively — the Wildkats also have a host of guards who can get hot at any moment.
Whether it’s the Finberg sisters, Ciera and Cydney lighting it up from behind the arc or Summer Burlage and Ellie Johnson pushing the tempo on a fast break, Columbia Falls has scoring threats throughout its roster.
When the Wildkats fall into one of their suffocating zone defenses, their opponents see their window of opportunity slamming shut before the halftime buzzer has even sounded.
Yet, like any team chasing the dream of a state championship, the Wildkats remain humble, preparing for their chance at history.
To most, Columbia Falls’ first round matchup with Belgrade (9-13) seems like it should be an easy win. But the Panthers have won four of their last five, including two victories in the divisional tournament over teams who swept them in the regular season.
Any team who gets hot down the stretch, regardless of the record, poses a threat to a team resting in a state of complacency.
“That’s tournament basketball,” coach Finberg said. “Everybody is starting in the same spot and if you can put together one or two good games you can beat anybody. It’s all about the team that plays well that night. We have to focus on Thursday and we can’t afford to worry about all of these other distractions.
“I think it’s a good matchup for us. They don’t have a lot of size and we feel our guards should also have an advantage size-wise and we’ll have an advantage inside too. [Belgrade] shoots the three ball a lot. We can’t let them get started and get hot.”
Coach Finberg knows the value of preparation, especially at this point in the season. So, while the Columbia Falls boys competed for their state championship last week, the girls came along to practice at Four Season Arena.
“They practiced well in Great Falls. They came down for the boys tournament, got in the arena and got a feel for the building. They practiced well,” Finberg said. “We just tried to focus on what we need to do better and try to improve in those areas.”
A win would put the Wildkats in the semifinal game on Friday at 6:30 p.m. against the winner of Hamilton (17-3) and Miles City (12-9) contest. A loss, and they’ll begin the long trek for a third-place finish.
“A lot of these girls played in the state tournament last year. We want them to get to the point where they walk on the court and know they can win any game on any night,” coach Finberg said.